Sunday, 15 July 2018

The Rebirth of a Nation: West Germany versus Hungary, the 1954 World Cup Final

Fritz Walter (left) and Ferenc Puskas, respectively the captains of West Germany and Hungary, exchange pennants before the 1954 World Cup Final in Berne, Switzerland.

Throughout its history, the popularity and influence of the game of association football has been consistently subjected to a great deal of assessment and analysis through the respective lenses of culture and politics. Football has been posited as the bringer of war and as an arbiter of peace. While some view football culture as the vulgar exercise of tribal rites in modern society and the World Cup tournament an excuse for the mass indulgence in crude jingoism, others have noted its redemptive qualities: To this day, many Germans believe that winning the 1954 World Cup signified the rebirth of their nation, which less than a decade earlier had lain in ruins after the fall of the Third Reich.

British Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson believed that he lost the General Election of 1970 to his Conservative Party rival Edward Heath, because of England’s shock 3-2 defeat to West Germany in a World Cup quarter-final match held in Leon, Mexico. And while myth surrounds a claim that Pele’s visit to Nigeria with his club Santos in 1969 led to a ceasefire between the warring armies of Nigeria and the secessionist state of Biafra, it was certainly the case that a two-legged World Cup qualifier between El Salvador and Honduras sufficiently exacerbated already existing tensions between the two states to cause a war. La guerra del futbol lasted for 100 hours.

As is the case with national achievements in sporting events, football events have allegedly caused spikes in birth rates. This was apparently the case with Germany -a country which perennially struggles with a low rate of birth- in the aftermath of the 2006 World Cup tournament. Such is the hold which football has over the minds of millions that Bill Shankly, the man behind the rise of Liverpool Football Club as a force in British and European football, once famously claimed the following:

Some people think football is a matter of life and death, I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.

While some might consider Shankly’s words to be verging on the pretentious –if not outright preposterous, they tend to strike a chord with others. For many German people, the victory of an unfancied national team in the 1954 World Cup Final was more than a temporary moment of popular exhilaration: it was a transcendental event of profound significance to the psyche of a recently defeated and divided nation, and one which would shape their collective destiny.

Dubbed Der Wunder von Bern, the match was a clash between pre-tournament favourites and a team of underdogs that the Hungarian side had trounced 8-3 in an earlier match held in the group stage.

It cannot be overstated just how lauded and respected the Hungarian team were. They were Olympic champions, had a lengthy unbeaten run, and could boast of many great players including Ferenc Puskas. One highlight of the ‘Golden Team’ was the 6-3 dismantling of England at Wembley Stadium the previous year. That victory irrevocably changed the English, who for decades had remained aloof and unimpressed about the development of the game they had created.

While Josef Herberger, the West German coach, had left out several first choice players in the group match for tactical reasons, no one could foresee his team beating the ‘Mighty Magyars’. And victory for the Hungarians seemed a certainty when they quickly raced to a 2-0 lead.

But captained by Fritz Walter, the Germans came back. All seemed to be in their favour. Fortune smiled in the form of two Hungarian plays bouncing off the German goalpost, and a Puskas effort which ended at the back of the net was disallowed. The weather elements played their part, because the rainy conditions in which the match was played was known to German football fans as ‘Fritz Walter Weather’. The more adverse the conditions, the better Walter’s game is claimed to have got. Technology also played a part. The Germans were kitted-out with Adidas boots, which had revolutionary screw-in studs. And the German players were emboldened and fortified by what was claimed to be a pre-match injection of either glucose or Vitamin C, but which some suspect may have been Peritin (methamphetine), a stimulant which had been given to German soldiers during the Second World War.

West Germany won the match 3-2.

Only nine years previously, their nation had been reduced to ruins by allied armies advancing from the west and the east. Many German footballers had been consumed by the flames of war. For instance, the talented Adolf Urban, a player for Schalke who had represented the pre-war German team, was posted to Stalingrad where he perished alongside the many dead of the vanquished Sixth Army.

The aftermath of the war had been a horrific episode in German history. Defeat did not end with the people being subjected to inevitable physical and material privations of what came to be known as “Zero Hour”. Widespread anti-German sentiment meant that they suffered pogroms across the continent, while German females were victims of mass rapes conducted by soldiers of the Red Army. They were also subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation by occupying allied soldiers. Across Europe, ethnic Germans had been ejected from lands on which they were long settled such as East Prussia, the Sudetenland and Volga-Land.

While the reasons for the subsequent Wirtschaftswunder, or economic miracle, are manifold and complex, many Germans continue to insist that victory in the 1954 World Cup was a key factor in the economic and political resurgence of West Germany in the post-war period. For them, German football commentator Herbert Zimmerman’s exhultant proclamation to millions of his countrymen listening on the radio that “Deutschland ist Weltmeister” symbolised their collective emancipation from “Zero Hour”.

As Joachim Fest the German historian put it, the game marked the “true birth of the country.”

© Adeyinka Makinde (2018)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

“En Même Temps”: Emmanuel Macron Visits Fela Kuti's Shrine in Nigeria

French President Emmanuel Macron poses with Femi Kuti (Left) and Youssou N’Dour (Second from Right) at The Afrika Shrine in Lagos on Tuesday, July 3rd 2018. (PHOTO: Ludovic Marin, Getty Images)

So French President Emmanuel Macron made good on his promise to visit ‘The New Afrika Shrine’ in Lagos.

The venue was built as a homage to the late Nigerian musician-activist Fela Kuti, who was a vehement critic of the military and civilian administrations that governed Nigeria during his lifetime.

I wonder how President Muhammadu Buhari took to Macron’s initial announcement of the visit. You see, Buhari was a member of the military government which on February 18th 1977 attacked and burned to the ground, the original ‘Shrine’. Fela’s ‘Shrine’ was considered by Nigeria’s rulers to have been a den of political subversion and deviant behaviour. And Buhari was of course the person who effectively set Fela up to be jailed for a currency violation offence during his later tenure as military dictator.

Like Barack Obama, who once mildly admonished an NBA basketball star for deigning to introduce him to Fela’s music by promising to gift him a Fela album (Obama: “You think I don’t know who Fela Kuti is?”), Macron is clearly one of these establishment-sponsored, high-achieving politicians who are nonetheless familiar with the pulsating beat and firebrand lyrics of fundamentally anti-establishment music.

Macron’s contradictions are legion. For instance, while he often speaks of his determination to restore French grandeur, he also calls for deeper European integration, a policy which necessarily entails French acceptance of German domination. Also, his initial highly publicised flattery of Donald Trump was followed by a severe rebuke of Trump’s policies in a speech that he gave before the American Congress.

His inconsistencies are underlined by his often used phrase: “en meme temps”, which means “at the same time”. So maybe the conversation with Buhari, or rather, his monologue to Buhari went something like this:

Monsieur President, I am totally against decadent marijuana-smoking, hyper-sexual persons like Fela, who wish to overthrow the existing social and economic order. At the same time, I will be going to pay homage to that principled and rebellious musician who you jailed in 1984 - the same chap who referred to you and other Nigerian dictators as “animals in human skin”.

L’homme est une contradiction ambulate …

© Adeyinka Makinde (2018)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Satire: "Angela Merkel, Your boys took a hell of a beating!"

In an upset, South Korea defeated World Cup holders Germany 2-0 in a final match of Group F in Kazan on June 27th 2018, knocking them out of the tournament. The following is an imagined post-match rant by a South Korean commentator adapting the infamous tirade by Norwegian commentator Bjorge Lillelien after Norway beat England 2-1 in a World Cup qualifier in Oslo in 1981.

“We are the best in the world! We are the best in the world! We have beaten Germany 2-0 in football!! We have beaten Germany! Germany, birthplace of Teutones giants.

“Otto, Prince of Bismarck, Paul von Hindenburg, Helmut Kohl, Helmut Schmidt, Konrad Adenauer, Max Schmeling, Marlene Dietrich – we have beaten them all. We have beaten them all!

“Angela Merkel, can you hear me? Angela Merkel, I have a message for you in the middle of your coalition crisis. I have a message for you: We have knocked Germany out of the football World Cup.

“Angel Merkel, as they say in your language in the boxing bars around Boxhalle in Munich: Your boys took a hell of a beating! Your boys took a hell of a beating!”

© Adeyinka Makinde (2018)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England. 

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

The Saudi-Egyptian Rivalry - How a Football Match Reflected Geopolitical Power Relations

The defeat of the Egyptian national football team by their Saudi Arabian counterparts in the 2018 World Cup can be viewed as a metaphor for the triumph of the Saudis over Egypt after an intense and sometimes deadly political rivalry played out during the rule of the charismatic and secular-orientated Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Egypt has a rich tradition of football at both domestic and international levels. Along with the ‘Black Stars’ of Ghana, the ‘Pharaohs’ of Egypt were the glamour team of African football back in the 1960s, and despite several significant lows have, over the course of time, established a formidable reputation as seven-times winners of the African Cup of Nations tournament. The derby matches held between the Cairo club sides Al Ahly and Zamalek represent an enduring rivalry, which is arguably as passionately intense as any other in the world including Istanbul’s Kitalararasi Derbi and the Spanish El Clasico.

Saudi Arabia, which established its football federation 35 years after Egypt’s, did not enter a tournament until 1984. And although it has gone on to become one of Asia’s most successful national football teams, the rankings tabulated respectively by FIFA and the Soccer Power Index, demonstrate that Asian football continues to trail that of the African continent.

Going into the match held in Volgograd on June 25th, Egypt could boast of having defeated Saudi Arabia in 4 out of 6 meetings. The first meeting between both countries in September 1961 during the Pan Arab Games ended in a 13-0 rout of the Saudis. Although the phenomenal gap in quality had closed over the years, Egypt emerged as 2-1 winners the last time they met in 2007.

For these reasons, it would appear rather perplexing to think of a footballing rivalry as existing between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. However, the nature of the football World Cup tournament in its straightforward evocation of nationalist pride and rivalry has been apt at bringing into sharp focus the relations of nations who have been scheduled to play each other.

This was clearly the case when England played Argentina in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, four years after the military conflict between Britain and Argentina over the Falkland Islands, which is known to Argentineans as Las Islas Malvinas.

And the imagination of the global public was stirred by the drawing of the United States and Iran in the same group during the 1998 tournament.

While the same cannot be said about the drawing together of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Arab Republic of Egypt into Group A of the present World Cup, the Saudi defeat of an Egyptian side which included English Premier League Golden Boot winner Mo Salah, may have brought to the minds of some the previously intense and sometimes deadly political rivalry that once existed between both countries.

The struggle for the heart and soul of the Arab masses between the secular Egyptian republic led by Gamal Abdel Nasser on the one hand, and the Wahabbist monarchy of Saudi Arabia on the other, was at its peak during the 1960s. The eight-year-long civil war in North Yemen between republican and royalist factions was one manifestation of a struggle, which also placed both countries on opposite sides in the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Where the pro-Western Saudis were tradition-bound and seemingly resistant to change, the government of Nasser, which had been formed by members of the Free Officer Movement, appeared to be progressive. Nasserism not only embodied Arab nationalism, it also embraced the spirit of Bandung-era anti-imperialist sentiment and Afro-Arab solidarity.

At the apex of its appeal in the years following the Suez War of 1956, Nasser-led Egypt appeared to represent the hopes and the aspirations of the Arab people, and not the rulers of Saudi Arabia, who felt threatened and sought to check the spread of Egyptian influence.

That rivalry has, for all intents and purposes, been defunct for several generations.

How and why did Egyptian prestige and influence in the Arab world fall to its present state? Perhaps a starting point can be made by referencing the humiliating defeat inflicted on the Egyptian armed forces by the State of Israel in 1967 when the Israelis routed the combined armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan.

This defeat so traumatised the Arab psyche that it provided an avenue through which the fundamentalist brand of Islamism espoused by ideologues such as the Muslim Brotherhood’s Sayyid Qutb could begin to gain greater appeal.

Nasser may have executed Qutb, but a succession of failures: militarily against Israel, economically in relation to the implementation of his brand of socialism, and politically the fracture of the United Arab Republic project with Syria alongside the quagmire in Yemen, began to convince some intellectuals and the man-in-the-street that secular nationalism was no longer the preferred course through which Arabs could develop their societies.

Egyptian prestige dwindled when it began to be perceived that Anwar Sadat, Nasser’s successor, had become a tool of the West, and Egypt, with its ever expanding population but meagre resources, could not compete economically with the oil-rich Saudis.

While Sadat had garnered a modicum of esteem for Egypt after the Arab-Israeli War of 1973, the oil embargo and the ensuing fuel crisis strengthened the hand of the Saudis whose bargain with the United States to sell oil solely in US dollars in return for guaranteeing the security of the House of Saud, offered the Saudi monarchy an extra layer of protection.

Although less concerned now about the possibility of Nasserite-inspired conspiracies aimed at overthrowing the royal house as had occurred during Nasser’s heyday, the Saudis still felt threatened by the possibility of a revival of the Nasserite ideology in Egypt, and by the machinations of his ideological heir, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who had overthrown the Libyan monarchy in 1969.

An indication of the change in the balance of Saudi-Egyptian relations was apparent with the more or less wholesale abrogation by Sadat of Nasser’s policies, in return for subsidies and low-interest loans from the Saudis. Also, while the Arab League has for much of its history been characterised as a ‘do-nothing’ organisation, it was clear that as Egyptian influence waned, that of the Saudis grew.

The hand of the Saudis was also strengthened by the jolt caused in 1979 by the Siege of Mecca, which had the effect of intensifying the policy of exporting the Wahhabist ideology to foreign Muslim lands as a form of atonement to the senior clerics of the realm who warned Saudi Arabia’s rulers that the siege, which was staged by the followers of Juhayman al-Otaibi, had been caused by Saudi Arabia’s steady drift towards an ‘infidel culture’, that is, what they considered to be the adapting of Western practices in Saudi society.

By now, the days when Egypt had actively provided a counter-weight ideology of secularism to the Muslim world were long gone.

For decades, Egypt’s rulers, beginning with Sadat and continuing with Hosni Mubarak, have largely played second fiddle to the Saudis. And under General Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, this state of affairs has arguably become more pronounced. It is an open secret that el-Sisi was brought to power in 2013 by a coup which was financed by Saudi Arabia.

Furthermore, the ceding by Egypt to the Saudis of the Red Sea Islands of Tiran and Sanafir in June 2017 provoked widespread outrage in Egypt. Although both Islands are largely uninhabited, the transfer of sovereignty was interpreted by many Egyptians as an abject surrender to Saudi suzerainty. It was a pact that many believe was reached because of Egyptian need for Saudi aid.

There are likely to be many Egyptians whose pride will be sorely dented by a sporting loss to the sparsely-populated desert kingdom to whom their leaders have increasingly become beholden.

A football match, it appears, has come to mirror the loss of Egyptian geopolitical power and influence relative to that gained and wielded by the Saudis.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2018)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Volgograd - The World Cup host city and its historical importance

The ‘Motherland Calls’ statue on Mamayev Kurgan overlooking Volgograd which commemorates the ‘Battle of Stalingrad’.

The World Cup football tournament, as with other festivals of sport such as the Olympic Games, present the host nation with the opportunity to showcase its historical legacies as well as its cultural heritage. They may also provide a suitable platform aimed at portraying the national zeitgeist.

Russia is certainly taking the opportunity to present aspects of its history and culture alongside the football matches by staging a series of exhibitions, music concerts and ballet performances.

For those with a general knowledge of the medieval and modern history of Russia, the names of most of the cities hosting the matches will strike a cord. Nizhny Novgorod was a cultural centre of the early flowering of Russian civilisation while Saint Petersburg is the city built by Peter the Great to serve as Russia’s ‘window to Europe’. Moscow is of course famous as the capital city of both Russia and the Soviet Union, where the imposing fortress of the Kremlin is located. And Yekaterinburg is the city in which Tsar Nicholas II and his family were massacred by the Bolsheviks one hundred years ago.

The Second World War, which in Russia is referred to as Velikaya Otechestvennaya voyna (the Great Patriotic War), inexorably figures in such recollections. For it was on the German Eastern Front that a series of battles between vast Nazi and Soviet armies occurred. Each confrontation was replete with large scale pincer movements, ferocious tank battles, protracted sieges and massive capitulations.

Saint Petersburg, then known as Leningrad, endured a 900-day long siege, while the Battles for Moscow and Rostov-on-Don during the later part of 1941 provided the templates for future Soviet resistance to what appeared to be the unstoppable advance of Nazi forces after the launch of Operation Barbarossa in June of that year.

But if one battle is emblematic of Russian-Soviet defiance of the Nazi war machine, it is the Battle of Stalingrad. Named after the Soviet leader Stalin, the city, now known as Volgograd, was the scene of what is regarded as the single largest and bloodiest battle in the history of warfare. It is also seen as the turning point in the war. The surrender of the Sixth Army in February 1943, ended a confrontation which had consumed an estimated 1.9 million lives consisting of the soldiers of both armies as well as Soviet civilians. Victory at Stalingrad set the Soviet Union on the path to victory against Nazi Germany.

It is rightfully commemorated.

A monument called Mamayev Kurgan, situated at the highest point of the city on an ancient Tatar burial mound, provides a fitting memorial. Designed by Yevgeny Vuchetich and structural engineer Nikolai Nikitin, the ‘Motherland is Calling’ statue is a massive structure depicting Mother Russia as a voluptuous heroine bearing a massive sword while exhorting the nation to victory.*

While Russia’s objective, like other countries which host World Cup competitions, is to boost national prestige and develop areas within its business sphere, the authorities may also calculate that the temporary, but intense focus of the global media on host cities such as Volgograd, will create an awareness of its past, and hope that this translates into a more empathetic appraisal of its present needs.  

*An important consequence of the victory was the ensuing domination of the Soviet Union over Eastern Europe and parts of Central Europe. While the breakup of the Soviet Union has removed such domination the Soviet conquest of East Prussia has a not often remembered legacy. Kaliningrad, which is situated between Poland and Lithuania, has remained under Russian control. Formerly known as Konigsberg, it remains for some an unresolved remnant of the Second World War, while for others it is territory firmly in Russian hands and from which Russia can project its military power in the Baltic region.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2018)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

A Football Match and a reminder of 'The Kaliningrad Question'

I must confess to have been temporarily dumbstruck when perusing a World Cup brochure a few weeks ago upon discovering that the Nigerian national football team would be playing their first match in the city of Kaliningrad.


Surely all the former Russian Soviet cities had reverted back to the original names they had under the Russian empire. Leningrad is now Saint Petersburg, Sverdlovsk went back to being Yekaterinburg, while Stalingrad, although not becoming Tsaritsyn once more, is now known as Volgograd.

To be sure, I have noted Kaliningrad in recent times when writing about Russia’s attempts to counter NATOs deployment of anti-ballistic nuclear shields in Eastern Europe, but did not ponder on it.

Kaliningrad has a much forgotten historical and geopolitical significance.

Nestled between Poland and Lithuania, in part of what used to be East Prussia, Kaliningrad,* formerly known as Konigsberg, serves as a reminder of part of the radical adjustments made to national borders and the wholesale transfer of populations after the Second World War.

Not only was the ethnic German population murdered or expelled by the Red Army, the Soviet and now Russian occupation of Konigsberg underlines the fact that the status of East Prussia has yet to be settled by a formal peace treaty ending the state of war between the victorious allies and Germany. The Potsdam Conference of July 1945, which sanctioned the forcible expulsion of ethnic Germans from parts of Central and Eastern Europe, provided that the Soviet Union’s occupation of Konigsberg and the surrounding land would continue until a peace treaty was signed with Germany.

Thus, it is argued, mainly by die-hard German nationalists, that German sovereignty remains compromised by Russian occupation of Konigsberg and United States ‘occupation’ of what was West Germany.

So does a state of war still exist between Germany and the nations against whom it fought up until 1945? And to which country does Kaliningrad, nee Konigsberg belong?

Well, in regard to the first question, one answer is to state that while Germany did not formally sign a peace contract at the end of World War Two, a state of war can hardly be argued to persist. The absence of a treaty is, it is argued, covered by the German Instrument of Surrender signed by representatives of the three armed services of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht. A dictated peace it may be, but it underlined the objective of maintaining peace between previously warring states.

An alternative way of looking at the situation is by reference to the ancient concept of debellatio. This refers to where one protagonist in a war has been totally destroyed so that none of its institutions exist for it to be able to exercise control over previously sovereign territory. The classic example of this is the Roman conquest of Carthage. After the Third Punic War, Carthage ceased to exist. An analogy can thus be made to the state of affairs existing at the end of the war when the Third Reich disintegrated and was subsequently succeeded by two German states.

So far as the territory of Konigsberg-Kaliningrad is concerned, the question of ceding it to the current unified German state or granting it autonomy remains a hypothetical one. Attempts at resettling the area with ethnic Germans has not met with much success. By virtue of the Final Settlement Treaty of 1990, Germany renounced all claim to Konigsberg-Kaliningrad, although it did not formally transfer its former title to any other party.

But so much for history and geopolitics. The pressing issue tonight is how Nigeria fare against Croatia in the second match of what is billed the ‘Group of Death’.

*Mikhail Kalinin was a high-ranking Bolshevik functionary who became the head of state of the USSR and for whom the city was named in 1946.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2018)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Memories of the Volvo 164

Volvo 164 - 1969-1970 UK Market Sales Brochure

My Father bought a royal blue version of this Volvo model in 1973 as a replacement for his Humber Sceptre MK III. This was just before we returned to Nigeria in April of that year. I was quite impressed by his claim that it could plough through six inches of snow. Or at least negotiate snowy terrain in a manner no other car was able to accomplish at the time.

‘The Volvo 164 is a 4-door, 6-cylinder luxury sedan unveiled by Volvo at the Paris Motor Show early in October 1968 and first sold as a 1969 model. 46,008 164s were built before the car was superseded by the 264 in 1975’. - Wikipedia.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2018)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.